LINCOLN — Senior safety Daimion Stafford gave Nebraska a stat line Saturday that it would take most weeks.
Eight tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and a pass breakup. And both of the turnovers came at critical times in the Huskers’ 32-23 comeback win against Penn State.
Now that Stafford is buying into a request from NU secondary coach Terry Joseph, it’s something that Joseph believes Stafford can give the Husker defense the rest of the way.
“I really think about midway through the season he started playing with a lot less emotion and more attention to his job and detail,” Joseph said. “Especially for young players and young kids in general, you get so emotional you just get out of control. So I think the last few weeks he’s been in control.”
Joseph said safety P.J. Smith has had a calming affect on Stafford. During a four-game winning streak, Joseph said, Stafford also has been in position to make plays and been productive with the chances.
“He’s made some plays that we expected out of him his whole time here,” Joseph said.
Stafford picked off Matt McGloin and returned the interception 21 yards to the Penn State 4 to set up the Husker touchdown that tied the game 20-20 in the third quarter. He then was involved in the controversial goal-line fumble by PSU tight end Matt Lehman, falling on the loose ball in the end zone as NU clung to a 27-23 lead in the fourth.
Competing for the pick
Joseph said Stafford and Ciante Evans defended the play perfectly on the Stafford interception — and Evans said they knew what was coming.
Stafford had the inside on a “dig route” by Trevor Williams, with Evans protecting him up high. Stafford jumped the route, though it appeared that Evans also could have made the interception.
“I told him what the route was going to be, actually,” Evans said, smiling. “At the same time, he knows. He knows route recognition just as good as anybody else in the secondary.
“I know he kind of stole it from me, but he can have it.”
PSU known to go for it
Penn State came into the game with more fourth-down snaps than any other team in the Big Ten. But its first official attempt against Nebraska was a desperation fourth-and-5 from its own 25 with 2:39 remaining.
McGloin threw incomplete to Alex Kenney on a pass defended by Justin Blatchford. The Nittany Lions previously were 16 of 30 on fourth-down conversions. No other Big Ten team had tried more than 20, and the majority had fewer than a dozen.
PSU actually tried one without hesitation late in the second quarter when it faced fourth-and-1 from the NU 16. McGloin would have gotten the first on a quarterback sneak, but the Lions were penalized for a false start and then decided to kick a field goal.
Less blitzing, more heat
Nebraska’s defensive strategy against Penn State Saturday included lots of different blitz schemes early, but coach Bo Pelini decided to leave more linebackers and defensive backs in pass coverage as the game unfolded.
The adjustment worked.
The NU defensive line found a way to create pressure by itself often enough after halftime — Nebraska recorded all three of its sacks in the third and fourth quarters. The Huskers were credited with five quarterback hurries.
“Sacks aren’t the only thing that count as pressure,” defensive end Cameron Meredith said. “When you’re in his face pushing the pocket back and he’s making bad decisions throwing-wise and he’s scrambling, then that’s pressure to us.”
McGloin completed 10 of his first 17 passes, but connected on eight of his final 20 throws.
Nebraska now leads the Big Ten with 27 sacks this season, tied for 20th nationally.